LocalStart.org bolsters KC’s economy with locally made goods.
“That’s unacceptable. Let’s fix it.”
Richard Shipley and Dan Lynch, co-founders of LocalStart.org, said those words in the fall of 2011 after an internet search for “made in Kansas City” produced one result.
“It boggled my mind,” says Shipley. Their disbelief fueled more research, this time in the Yellow Pages.
“It turned into an 11-month research project,” he says. “We were organizing the info we found in an Excel spreadsheet, then created a website—a Google site—to share what we’d learned. We were looking for free ways to get the information out there. Problem is, the people we included didn’t even know that they were listed on the website.”
Fast forward to June 2013, when Shipley and Lynch went to Hack Kansas City: National Day of Civic Hacking. There he met Katie Greer, a graphic designer who donated the logo that is now used to identify a growing stable of locally produced products.
“We relaunched the next day with the Made in KC initiative,” says Shipley. Thou Mayest coffee was the first to pick it up; and now 200 companies place the iconic logo on their packaging and products to proudly declare their origins. There are names you’ve seen here in the pages of Lifestyle Publications: Good Dog 2 Go, Annie’s Barn and Our Sassy Pantry. There are names everyone recognizes: The Rosterie, Indigo Wild, Clear10 Vodka, and Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ. There are food companies and production companies, coffee roasters and bow tie makers. The majority of these companies, according to Shipley, are run by folks with day jobs who create beautiful things at home and in their spare time.
Between the time Thou Mayest joined and fall of 2014, LocalStart.org had relaunched and shot a video to introduce the initiative to others. Shipley started making connections, and in doing so realized the logo was really just the first step in fixing a bigger problem.
“As I talked to people and spent a good chunk of my time connecting with other businesses, I found an underground Chamber of Commerce of sorts: a group of businesses putting in sweat equity with one common goal, which was to make Kansas City a better place.”
Shipley and his team launched micro pop-ups to introduce people to locally produced products and soon had a revelation.
“It’s not the introduction that’s the problem,” he says. “It’s the logistics. We’d use repurposed bookshelves and stock products on a consignment basis, and they’d sell out within 48 hours. We couldn’t restock fast enough, but the bigger problem was this: there was no distribution system or logistics to set up to support keeping local products in multiple locations.
Think of it this way: if you are a retailer and you want to carry local products, you have to deal with multiple local companies. If you stock product from ten companies and those products sell out, you have to place ten more orders. The work multiplies exponentially, which is a barrier to getting more local products placed on a consistent schedule.”
With a background in freight management, Shipley is working on a solution. The idea is to set up a distribution center stocked with made in KC products and to partner with Phil Pisciotta of Fresh Food Express to distribute those products to local retailers.
“Buying local has become trendy,” says Shipley, “but without a strong infrastructure to support it, it won’t last. We have to be smart and we have to realize that makers aren’t just artists; a maker is someone who has a passion to create or needs an outlet, whether what they create is art or food or electronics or community programs.
The future of this kind of economy is so exciting,” says Shipley. “Sixty-eight percent of every dollar spent on locally produced products stays in the community. Every one of us has the power in our wallet to build a strong local economy simply by choosing to shop local instead of online or with national chains.
The perception is that shopping local or with a small mom and pop isn’t the most convenient way to shop, but that’s not always the case. There are interesting changes that are bringing the best of online shopping—selection, convenience, quality, and price—to mom and pop stores, and making locally made goods the reason to shop small gives these establishments a niche market that isn’t available in the big boxes. Truth is, by shopping locally we can spend the same amount of money and get a product that’s been produced locally and customized to our specifications.”
Learn more at LocalStart.org.